Sunday, September 19, 2010

Father absence linked to earlier puberty among certain girls

At least they admit that they haven't got a clue why, which is refreshing. The small and complicated correlation found in a sample of only 80 girls suggest a random walk rather than any real relationships, particularly as even that 80 was further subcategorized racially to get the correlations reported. n= small, as they say in statistics

Girls in homes without a biological father are more likely to hit puberty at an earlier age, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley's School of Public Health.

The findings, to be published Sept. 17 in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that the absence of a biologically related father in the home predicted earlier breast and pubic hair development, but only for girls in higher income households. The findings held even after the girls' weight was taken into account.

"The age at which girls are reaching puberty has been trending downward in recent decades, but much of the attention has focused on increased body weight as the primary culprit," said study lead author Julianna Deardorff, UC Berkeley assistant professor of maternal and child health. "While overweight and obesity alter the timing of girls' puberty, those factors don't explain all of the variance in pubertal timing. The results from our study suggest that familial and contextual factors - independent of body mass index - have an important effect on girls' pubertal timing."

The findings came from the Cohort study of Young Girls' Nutrition, Environment and Transitions (CYGNET), an epidemiologic project headed by Lawrence Kushi, associate director of etiology and prevention research at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research. The project is part of the UC San Francisco Bay Area Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Center (BCERC), one of four centers funded by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Early puberty has been linked to greater risk for breast and other reproductive cancers later in life, among other health impacts.

"Although the main focus of the CYGNET Study is on environmental exposures, we are also keenly interested in the social and behavioral contexts in which maturation occurs," said Kushi. "These findings demonstrate that such factors may play important roles in the onset of puberty in girls."

The link between father absence and earlier puberty in girls has been found in previous research, but most of those studies relied upon recall of the girls' first periods, and few examined the contributions of body mass index, ethnicity and income.

In this new study, researchers recruited 444 girls ages 6-8 through Kaiser Permanente Northern California, and have been following them annually. Their analysis was based on the first two years of follow-up. They considered signs of puberty that occur before the start of menarche. In interviews with the girls' caregivers, the researchers asked about the residents in the girls' homes and their relationships to the children.

Among the girls studied, 80 reported biological father absence at the time of recruitment. Contrary to what the researchers expected, the absence of a biologically related father was linked to earlier breast development for girls in higher income families - those having annual household incomes of $50,000 or more. Father absence predicted earlier onset of pubic hair development only in higher income African Americans families.

The mechanisms behind these findings are not entirely clear, the study authors said. Evolutionary biologists have theorized that the absence of a biological father may signal an unstable family environment, leading girls to enter puberty earlier.

Another theory that has been posited is that girls without a biological father in the home are exposed more to unrelated adult males - specifically, the pheromones of these males - that lead to earlier onset of puberty. However, in this study, the presence of other adult males, including stepfathers, in the home did not alter the findings.

It is also unclear why father absence predicted early puberty only in higher income families, particularly for African American girls.

"It's possible that in lower income families, it is more normative to rely upon a strong network of alternative caregivers," said Deardorff. "A more controversial hypothesis is that higher income families without fathers are more likely to have a single mother who works long hours and is not as available for caregiving. Recent studies have suggested that weak maternal bonding is a risk factor for early puberty."

Another possibility is that higher income girls in father-absent homes may be exposed to more artificial light - which has been shown to accelerate puberty in animal studies - through television, computers and other forms of technology, according to the study authors. The researchers also suggested that higher income African American girls may be more exposed to certain beauty products, such as hair straighteners, which have estrogenic properties that could influence pubertal timing.

The study adds to the debate of why girls in the United States are entering puberty at an increasingly early age. Last month, a study of 1,200 girls led by BCERC researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center found that about 15 percent of the girls showed the beginnings of breast development at age 7, an increase from similar studies conducted in the 1990s.

"The hunt for an explanation to this trend is significant since girls who enter puberty earlier than their peers are not only at greater risk for reproductive cancers, they are also more likely to develop asthma and engage in higher risk sexual behaviors and substance abuse, so these studies have broader relevance to women's health," said Bay Area BCERC's principal investigator Dr. Robert Hiatt, UCSF professor and co-chair of epidemiology and biostatistics, and director of population science at the campus's Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

"In some ways, our study raises more questions than it answers," said Deardorff. "It's definitely harder for people to wrap their minds around this than around the influence of body weight. But these findings get us away from assuming that there is a simple, clear path to the earlier onset of puberty."


Mama Obama cares about your health

Michelle Obama is the prettiest First Lady in close to half a century. She’s Jackie Kennedy with a better tan. She’s got school-age kids, which makes her the Nation’s First Mama, too.

So when Michelle Obama addresses the NRA — in this case, the National Restaurant Association — on the topic of preventing childhood obesity leading to adult diseases like hypertension and Type-II Diabetes, she’s not speaking as a private citizen but as a mouthpiece for Big Daddy Obama, President of the United States of America. Proof: her speech is on the official White House Website — a Dot Gov.

I was a fat teenager. Now I’m a fat guy in his fifties. I was skinny in between but I could only fight the battle of the bulge for so long before Herr Hamburger got me in the gut.

These days — if Michelle Obama took a look at what I actually eat — it’s supposed to be pretty healthy. Dr. Atkins said beef, cheese, and eggs weren’t going to cause my cholesterol to rise — the problem was carbs. Old Doc Atkins must have been right because I haven’t cut back on red meat, cheese, or eggs and my cholesterol and blood pressure are right where they’re supposed to be, despite my being what’s called “morbidly obese.” I do suffer from Type II Diabetes, which means I severely restrict high-glycemic-index foods. I haven’t had a sugary soda in decades. The ice-cream I eat is sugar-free and low-fat. I’ve learned to like broccoli and cauliflower, cook with olive oil, don’t eat rice or pasta, seldom eat a potato, and even bread is a rare luxury.

So aside from her being less familiar with the health benefits of an Atkins’ diet than I am, I can’t find much to fault with Mama Obama’s suggestions to the restauranteurs that a lot of what they put on our plates is bad for our waistline.

Still, I wish Mama Obama would shut her damned pie hole. It’s no business of the White House what I eat and whether it’s bad for my health. I already have a mother of my own and I don’t need a surrogate mother in Washington D.C. trying to shove her health care down my throat. My own daughter ate Mac and Cheese off the children’s menus in countless restaurants and today — at age nineteen — she’s in such good shape with such impressive upper body strength she could kick the asses of the White House staff without breaking a sweat. defines totalitarianism as “Form of government that subordinates all aspects of its citizens’ lives to the authority of the state, with a single charismatic leader as the ultimate authority.”

What’s more personal than what we eat? Why is the First Lady using her official charisma to talk to restaurant owners at all, with the always-present veiled threat coming from the center of power that if you don’t do precisely what we want we’ll point guns at you until you do — using the swarm of bureaucrats at the FDA, Department of Agriculture, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and EPA as shock troops?

Eat what you want, babe. Feed your kids what you want. Tell the White House Chef to cook what you want. Order the Veggie Plate on Air Force One. If I want your diet advice I’ll invite you to my table. Until then, I’m supersizing an order of fries in your name.


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